Politics & Policy

Sexist Claptrap On PBS

It's not distinctive; it's just dumb.

Bonnie Erbe, the host of one of PBS’s most ludicrous scams, says, “I expect insecure people and especially conservatives to lie and play games.” The host of the all-woman pundit show To The Contrary wrote this in an e-mail to Linda Chavez, one of her guests. The fur first began to fly when Chavez, a charming and intelligent lady, said on the air that she kept a gun for fear of being attacked or raped. Erbe, in the typically arrogant and giggly way nasty liberal women say these sorts of things, said that Chavez didn’t need a gun because, “I would bet that you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning, Linda, than, living where you live, and at your age, being raped. Sorry.” If you want the whole tick-tock, back and forth read Howard Kurtz’s summary in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Now, I don’t have too much to add on this contretemps, though it’s nice to see the fictional “national epidemic” of rape has some limits even in Ms. Erbe’s opinion. And, it’s nice to see where anti-gun ideology takes some people. Still, it was a dumb and nasty thing for Erbe to say, and therefore typical of her and her show. And that’s the real point.

I spent most of my professional life as a public-television producer and when it comes to political journalism, PBS is a hothouse of ideological fraud, bias, and stupidity. There are a few exceptions on the Left and the Right and in the middle. The NewsHour does excellent work, albeit from an old establishment-liberal slant from time to time. Frontline is terribly left-wing, but extremely well-done and professional. The program I worked on and helped start, Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg, has a definite approach to issues, but it strives for the only worthwhile kind of balance among its guests — a group of people whose “diversity” arises from the fact that they know what they’re talking about.

But by any reasonable standard, To the Contrary is a horror show. Even for the smart and capable women who sometimes appear on the program — including our own inestimable Kate O’Beirne, who was a regular years ago, or Amy Holmes these days — the program is classic suburban, affluent-feminist agitprop. The animating fiction is that somehow these women speak truth to power by offering views at odds with the reigning male patriarchy dominating political TV. The program’s website and promotional material shout out its “unique perspective,” which helps “women’s voices get heard” and “presents news and views that are rarely, if ever, available elsewhere on television.”

Well, yeah. But that’s mostly because they’re not worth putting “elsewhere on television.” This is the program, recall, where To the Contrary regular Julianne Malveaux said of Clarence Thomas, “You know, I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease. Well, that’s how I feel. He is an absolutely reprehensible person.”

Ms. Erbe is well known for taking the usual brain-dead potshots at conservative Christians; she suggested that partial-birth abortion was no less “gruesome” than butchering veal; and all sorts of other zingers that get house-plant feminists to jump up and down and cheer (to the dismay, no doubt, of their many cats). When guests on the show are engaged in intelligent discussion, there’s very little of this unique women’s perspective they blather on about. There’s liberal perspective, very liberal perspective, extremely liberal perspective, and — of course — outnumbered-token-conservative perspective. That’s the fiction and the con. This is women’s-auxiliary punditry.

Ruth Conniff of The Progressive is a Contrary regular and a seemingly sharp liberal. Surely, she doesn’t say anything different about WTO or gun control on this show that she doesn’t say on Fox News? Kate O’Beirne offers the same perspective on CNN’s Capital Gang as she would anywhere else — her own. Erbe’s idea is that somehow Meet the Press has a male bias. If Tim Russert were a woman, somehow the show would turn into one giant Café Vienna moment with Ms. Russert’s friends holding readings of “Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” and “Our Mothers Ourselves.” The truth is that mainstream shows have plenty of women on them and the vast majority of them are liberal women. Hell, MSNBC might as well be a soccer-mom book club for most of the day.

Regardless, I’ve never heard Elizabeth Drew have her inner Gaea denied by David Broder. Cokie Roberts and Gwen Ifill outshine plenty of men, and I don’t think they do it because they suffer from patriarchal false consciousness or because they’ve lost their Girl Power. How come all these supposedly tough independent women are constantly whining about how they can’t get a word in edgewise?

Sure, sometimes To The Contrary, covers “women’s issues” in more depth, but those issues invariably are either monstrously dull, academic, and irrelevant or synonymous with typical items on the liberal agenda — and nobody is fooled except the usual fools. I’m sure some take-your-daughter-to-work event coordinator at Brown University thinks the show is great, but only because it confirms her own silly views about the patriarchy. Face it, some people just like to watch a bunch of women sit around and pretend they’re doing something important by complaining about men. That’s fine by me — in fact that’s what my four years of college were all about — but don’t call it anything more than bad political theater. And don’t think that your PBS pledge dollars aren’t supporting it.

Still, I don’t blame Erbe for slinging this bull. After all, PBS has been in the crap-buying market for a very long time. In fact, To The Contrary is a brilliant concept for dunning corporations to meet their “diversity outreach” budgets with one-stop shopping. Underwriters like Mitsubishi write checks for this dreck and then can say to NOW or any curious journalist, “Hey, look what we’re doing for women.” It’s a pretty good value to get feminists off your back, and a good write-off at the same time.

And, best of all, it’s so, so easy to ignore. That is, as long as the checks clear. But just wait until someone tries to cancel the show and then you’ll hear much gnashing of teeth and wailing of maidens from liberal groups complaining that needed voices are being muzzled etc.

But there is one issue that should get some light — aside from the fact that it’s an awful show. Groups like FAIR claim that PBS is top-heavy with conservatives. Seriously, they do. Stop laughing. But the reality is that even the most conservative hosts on PBS, Bill Buckley until recently, or even Ben Wattenberg, are very honest about their biases; in fact, that’s their appeal. However, liberals like Erbe operate in bad faith, claiming to be neutral, or, in Erbe’s case, claiming to provide some sort of dispassionate woman’s perspective when she’s really just a tired liberal who wants to be Captain Kirk in her tiny little alternative universe. We get a glimmer of this from Ms. Erbe’s comment that she “expects conservatives to lie” (this from the ideological side of the playing field where “lying for justice” was invented and thrives today). Just imagine if a conservative host of a show said such a thing.


The irony of talking about this little-watched show is that there’s a mega-watched show out there called “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” that’s being assaulted by the Pope of the “To the Contrary” set. Patricia Ireland and her politburo at NOW yesterday released an hysterical report on women in the media. More on that another time.

But Patricia Ireland says she thinks Who Wants to Be A Millionaire should offer some sort of “affirmative action” to attract more female contestants. The thinking behind this is so exhausting and depressing I’d rather feed my Adam’s apple to weasels than address it.

So what is this supposed to mean? Whatever happened to all this level-playing-field stuff? Are women incapable of listing state capitals from East to West or in alphabetical order with the same proficiency as men? They have to dial the same number, make the same choices, know the same rudimentary fifth-grader information. Millionaire is not merely one of the highest watched shows in recent history — its viewers are disproportionately female. So don’t tell me the show needs just a bit more outreach.

One wonders what ABC is supposed to do. Should they give women an extra few seconds? Maybe let them take a civics textbook with them into the studio? Maybe give them a few more lifelines?

You do see the problem with that, don’t you? It flies in the face of “equal work for equal pay” — the holy mantra of liberals who lie about the economic conditions of men and women. Any economist will tell you that giving this kind of “equal opportunity” to female contestants is really the same as writing them checks. In an aggregate, statistical sense, the producers should just be giving out cash to chicks who try a little harder. “Come on, she was close. Give her the million anyway, she’s just a girl.”

But then again, maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe when a woman guesses wrong about the chronological order of top forty albums, she’s not really “wrong” about K.C. and the Sunshine Band, she’s just expressing her unique female perspective. Hey, maybe that’s why I think To the Contrary is such a moronic show.


Ms. Erbe says no one reads National Review, er sorry, “that magazine.” My guess is that she means “no one she knows reads that magazine,” which I think is just fine for all concerned and none too surprising. But I should defend the franchise for a moment. First, I should say that I don’t know a soul who has ever said, “Did you catch To the Contrary this weekend?” But since the personal is too political, let me grab this report from Erdos and Morgan, a survey firm which measures influence among various opinion makers: National Review ranks ninth among the Congressional Leadership for influential media – ahead of the NBC Nightly News, ABC News, The New Republic, etc. National Review ranked in the top ten in all categories, including #2 for “enjoyable.” I would tell you where To The Contrary ranks, but first they’d have to make the list.

And, as for NR Online (where the piece in question appeared), the Committee of Concerned Journalists ranked us ahead of the New York Times among political news sites. I know it’s not necessary to sound the trumpets all the time, but then again sometimes I just have to give expression to my own unique male voice.


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